The first time I didn’t know what was happening – For some strange reason I honestly believed that in that moment I was dying.
It was around 10pm and I had been fine all day. We spent the evening watching a show at the holiday park where we had been all weekend and I popped outside the club for a cigarette. I had done this a few times that evening and nothing had bothered me but this time was different. As I stood by the wall out of the way of the crowd that was slowly forming I got lost in my thoughts a little and tried my best to not engage with any of the other smokers – conversation with strangers was never my strong suit.
As the show inside finished everyone started to leave the building. Families and couples were streaming out of the large double doors just next to me and I found myself moving further along the wall to give everyone room. I was in a corner now – just me and my cigarette. What happened then I later found out was the first full panic attack I had ever experienced and it scared me.
I noticed the crowd getting denser – why are they not moving on? As the space around me became filled with more and more people, more smokers, more smoke the conversations surrounding me got louder but more jumbled. The noise turned into a drone that was deafening and I knew it was out of proportion to its real volume. My mind was somehow making this moment worse for me.
Time seemed to slow down a little, people moved slowly and seemingly all towards me. The occasional blur of someone walking right past startled me each time. They felt close and I struggled to gain any sense of personal space. I wasn’t close enough to be touching anyone, in reality there was probably a few meters between me and everyone else and yet it felt like they were stood on me – trampling me.
I started to panic about how I was feeling as well as the situation. Was I becoming more and more trapped in this crowd? Which way did I need to go to get back to my family? Had they left in the crowd and missed me? The questions started to race through my mind.
My chest got tight and my I could feel my heart get faster, my pulse was tangible in all my limbs, and audible inside my head. Was I having a heart attack? I was struggling to catch my breath now and had stopped smoking. Despite the panic I was trying to remain outwardly calm – after all it was something wrong with me, and I didn’t want to draw attention from the crowd. I wanted to move towards the door and try and get back inside but my feet were fixed firm to the ground. I couldn’t move out of the way of people, I couldn’t get out of the crowd – I was trapped and observing myself suffering through the experience.
As the crowd started to disperse the anxiety eased, the questions, doubts and fears racing through my head started to die down a little and my heart rate slowed. I was still shook up by the experience and felt dizzy and light-headed as I made my way towards the venue again. When I found my way back through the now mostly empty bar to where my family were sitting I just sat clutching my hands and trying to stop them from shaking. I had never felt like that before and it scared me, I didn’t know if it would start again, I don’t know what caused it.
Panic attacks are horrible – they don’t rely on understanding, common sense or logical reasoning – they can just happen. Since then I have had plenty more – some worse and some not so bad. They can occur anywhere from in the bath to at a family meal to a crowded restaurant and I still don’t fully understand why they happen to me. The worst thing for me is there is never a reason that I can identify – if you see someone panicking you want to ask “What are you panicking about?” but in reality there isn’t a something and that makes the panic even more unbearable.
Since changing my medication they have been less frequent which is good news – and it does mean that there are ways to treat panic attacks. For some their experiences may be terrifyingly worse, for others milder or shorter attacks may be more common. But with talking therapies and medication there is usually a way to ease them if not eradicate them.